Monday, 30 August 2010

Revise - Safety of Essential oils

Not all the worlds 250,000 flowering species are safe to use in aromatherapy.  In fact the number which can be used without mishap while following sensible guidelines is less than 150.  The most poisenous flowering plant in the world is the Himalayan monkshood (Aconitum ferox).  This plant is so poisenous it can kill just by being in close enough proximity to be smelt.  On contact the poisen enters the skin.  There is no antidote.

Essential oils were subject to rigourous examination as part of a series of over 1000 monographs published by the Research Institute of Fragrance materials in the Food and Cosmetic Toxicology journal some 40 years ago. this research established clear guidelines for their use.  Test results were organised by 5 categories of hazards: Oral toxicity, Dermal toxicity, Primary irritation, Contact sensitisation and phototoxicity. 

When properly used essential oils have been found to be beneficial in helping with various health problems.  However like all biologically active substances they are not risk free and misuse may cause severe adverse reactions.  They occur in plants in concentrations as low as 0.01% but are sold in 100% pure form so must be diluted before use.

A generally safe concentration is 2% diluted in unrefined fixed oils (such as grapeseed, sunflower, olive or almond oil).  Certain oils can be used undiluted for example on a spot or wart.

It is not recommended to eat the oils because of the potential complications involved in doing so by the inexperienced.  Individual reaction to the oils can vary widely.  All essential oils are irritants to the mucous membranes and practically insoluable in water.  Honey is also useless.  If using essential oils it is always prudent to consult professionals trained in their use.  This applies also to the fixed oils some of which should not be eaten.


Scientific enquiry and plant oils

In this post I would like to contrast knowledge of pythagoras's theorem with proofs that it is true.  Many great practicioners of architecture use it without being able to prove it is true because it is known to work.  The reason I am dwelling on this is to sound a warning note.

Aromatherapy contains many elements which practioners and home users know to be true.  Is there really any need for 64 studies which confirm to us that Lavender oil relaxes an anxious mind from a baby confronting bathtime to a highly stressed individual?  There is but I will come onto that.  My point is that when we come to primary aromatherapy education we need to bear in mind the simplicity of the use of plant oils and not burden practicioner students with tedious lists which will close their minds.  The purpose of education is to lead the minds of students out not close them.  Lets leave closed minds to others!

When I was a boy sitting in old schoolroom of the famous Rugby School I was introduced to proofs of the pythagorian theory that the sum of the length of the hypotenuse multiplied by itself was equal to the sum of the other sides in a right angled triangle.  This is the famous equation a2 = b2 +c2.  This equation is of the greatest use to educators as well as to architects, carpenters and astronomers.

Armed with this simple knowledge the Egyptian pyramids were built and it forms the stepping stone on along the way to knowledge of cosines which cover all triangles not just right angled ones.  This knowledge of triganometry was also known to the Babylonians.  We know this from a tablet dated to 1800bc known as Plimpton 322 which resides in Colombia University.  Do we really think Babylonian minds were open to mathematical knowledge and closed to the use of plant oils for health and beauty?  We know from the Bible's book of Esther that the Babylonians made good use of the oils.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Revise - History of Aromatherapy

Today one in four pharmaceuticals are derived from plants.  A hundred years ago virtually all drugs were derived from plants.  A knowledge of medicinal botany was crucial to medical practicioners in those days.  Al-Idrisi 1099-1166 was a muslim scholar born in Ceuta in Morocco.  His finest contribution is perhaps his book of drugs.  Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat.  This summarised all the available knowledge about medicinal plants. This work in the Kingdom of Sicily and Southern Italy established by the Normans led to a renaissance in western understanding.  Based for much of his career in Palermo in Sicily Al-Idrisi is famous for 'The Book of Roger' an encyclopedia of known geography describing all the known regions of the world with great accuracy. Sicily at this time was a great meeting point of Greek, Christian and Islamic culture and important trading hub.  Lemon and citrus cultivation on Sicily was extended greatly by the jesuits in the seventeenth century but introduced to sicily in the time of Al-Idrisi.  Besides the better known virtues and uses of lemons in cooking, fragrance, hygiene and aromatherapy, the lemons ph of 2-3 made it a safe and  effective contraceptive.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Revise - Practical matters - in a health care environment - first aids and health and safety, allegens and the expiry date


Shirley Price Aromatherapists and those working in complementary care are required to take a Health and Safety Executive emergency first aid course at work and keep it current by annual refreshers.  Besides the professional requirements this is an easily obtained and useful lifeskill.   Shirley Price holds its First Aid and refresher course in October each year on the friday before the IFPA conference.  Next year the IFPA conference is in Newcastle.  The training is delivered nationally by Skill Base Training who are based near our offices in Hinckley in Leicestershire.  See a centre near you, here are the Leicestershire courses including those held at the head office in Desford.  You can book an individual course or join us for a class of 12.  Cost is £82.49 plus lunch.


Brief Case study - Your class of 6 therapists graduate.  You have trained for professional aromatherapy and now you are in business with your own aromatherapy practice.  You find you have a particular affinity with for those with learning difficulties.  You are treating a client and after 18 months your clients carer finds something is wrong.  The matter is discussed and your services are dispensed with and another aromatherapist employed.  You receive a verbal complaint.  How should you react? 

As a professional you need to assess the seriousness of the situation.  Ideally seek the advice of a fellow professional you trust such as a classmate or member of your regional IFPA group.  Besides anything else this professional communication will help you with your own confidence which is an often overlooked aspect of complaints and claims. 

Let us put ourselves in the role of the colleague who has been asked to advise you.  The first question must be is there any evidence that any harm has actually been done or is this simply a client or client carer relationship which has ended?  It is very rare that properly used and stored essential oils cause harm but they like any chemical have the potential to cause harm if used inappropriately.

A knowledge of how essential oils might cause harm will not only assist in their safe use but enable you to communicate effectively with your clients carers.  In this particular specialism much use is made of inhalations as less than 20 molecules of oil are necessary for the satisfaction of communication by smell.  Such an inhalation or very dilute massage contains only a tiny dose compared to the toxicity levels recorded in essential oils material safety data sheets.

A knowledge of allegens will also help deal with carers concerns.  Over time these particular components of the oil have the ability to oxidise to harmful allegens. Your essential oil suppliers should supply oil that lists the components which could give rise to possible allegens and their concentrations.  This is more a problem with residues from hygiene products which are scented for example with sythetic aroma chemical than essential oils but essential oils have an expiry date and it is wise to completely respect the date.  After all a bottle of respectable organic lavender is inexpensive.

There certainly was a view that some oils became more effective with age.  However modern thinking is that any such benefit will be outweighed by the risk of the allegens arising.


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Plant oils have been used for beauty treatments since times began with early records of the use of Lavender, Frankincense and Myrhh.  We even have preserved the cosmetic cases of egyptian queens.

We are often asked which essential oils should be used in cosmetics.  Most professional aromatherapists suggest the use of essential oils should be restricted to when they are really needed and are not sympathetic to cosmetic use at all.  Lavender is safe enough though shop bought cosmetics tend to contain Lavandin or synthetic linalool rather than true Lavender.  We are sometimes asked why true Lavender doesnt smell like Lavender!  All Lavender should have a fresh floral fragrance which lasts for the first year of its life.  For this reason its important for Sp to obtain its Lavender direct from the grower/distiller.   At this time of the year samples are coming in from all over the world and we choose the pick of the crop.

There is no problem though with the use of essential oils for specific care conditions in the treatment of eczema and acne and the normalising of dry or oily skin which they do wonderfully. Sp provides a range of cosmetics to do just this.

Precautions: Essential oils are powerful and not really intended for use day to day.  Of course this is not good news for the more entrepreneural because cosmetics with fruity sounding names can be sold for a high price!  There are real issues with essential oils and all chemicals in that if they not stored and used properly only within their use by dates they can oxidise to allegens and do harm.  Cooking is a great way to get the benefits of essential oils by using the herbs and plant matter from which they are derived while respecting the dose.  For example in time of winter chills and flu cook with Star Anise fruits.

The use of natural plant oils can reduce the amount of synthetic cosmetic use that is clear so it is well worth recording the cosmetic applications of essential oils and persuading clients to consider them.  The use of plant oils for this purpose is very ancient.  The Bibles book of Ester records how the Persian king Xerxes chose his bride from among women who received a year of beauty treatments using plant oils and myrhh.

Essential oils alone cannot meet all the needs of the beauty industry to produce functional products such a skin whitening.  Again this is an ancient use.  Roman writers recorded how students took certain herbs to whiten their faces so their professors would be convinced they had been inside stuying rather than outside in the sun with their friends!!

Ok here we go, this is the received wisom as to which oils are of help, I include some vegetable oils and extracts so the cosmetic is functional

Acne: Aloe Vera, Arnica, Burdock, Calendula, Goldenseal, Lemon, Peppermint, Witchazel

After shave: Aloe Vera, Calendula, Chamomile, Cucumber, Witch hazel

Anti aging: D-alpha tocopherol, echinacea, green tea, yarrow

Anti bacterial: echinacea, green tea, lavender, lemon, myrhh, thyme

Anti inflammatory: feverfew, green tea, witch hazel

Anti-oxident: aloe vera, chammile, D-alpha tocopheral, ginko

Anti septic: bergamot, calendula, chamomile, echinacea, myrhh, peppermint, sage, thyme, with hazel, yarrow

Anti wrinkle: apricot, comfrey, cucumber, D-alpha tocopheral, elderflower, green tea, rosemary, vitamin E nicotinate

Astringent: aloe vera, cucumber, echinacea, goldenseal, sage, witch hazel, yarrow

Bruising: arnica, horse chestnut

Cellulite: Rosemary, Thyme, Green tea, vitamin E nicotinate

Deodorants:  Bergamot, Rosemary, thyme, white willow

Eczema: echinacea, goldenseal

Eye creams: aloe vera, calendula, chamomile, comfrey, cucumber

dry skin: aloe vera, apricot, calendula, chamomile, comfrey, cucumber, echinacea, ginseng, rosemary, yarrow

Skin lightening: elderflower, lemon, uva ursi,

Sun care: aloe vera, apricot, calendula, chamomile, comfrey, cucumber, D-alpha tocpherol, rosemary, yarrow

Varicose veins: capiscum, goldenseal, horsechestnut,

Wounds: aloe vera, arnica, calendula, chammile, comfrey, goldenseal, witch hazel

Aromachemistry - Lavender

The chemical component most associated with Lavender is linalool (a terpene alcohol) which gives lavender its pleasant floral scent and insecticidal properties.  Synthetic linalool is used as an insecticide in the control of fleas and cockroaches so it is hardly suprising that a bunch of lavender is hung upside down in homes to deter insects in an environmentally friendly and safe way.  A bunch of lavender will last a year.  Many plant species produce linalool.  Linalool is also relatively easily synthesised so adulteration by wholesalers with synthetic linalool is a problem if only to ensure an essential oil conforms to the standards of the fragrance trade. 

Linalool is also a good example of stereoisomers found in essential oils.  S-linalool (left) is found in coriander, palmarosa and sweet orange, (having a sweeter floral scent) R-linalool (right) (a floral but more woody scent) is found in Lavender, Laurel and Sweet Basil.

Linalool is used as a scent in 60-80% of perfumed hygiene products and cleaning agents including soaps, detergents, shampoos, and lotions. It is also used as a chemical intermediate. One common product of linalool is Vitamin E.

Lavender has so many uses in aromatherapy.  Recovering cocaine users use lavender mixed with water to heal their nasal passages.

Properties: Akio Nakamura together with colleagues from the University of Tokyo and T. Hasegawa Co., Ltd in Kawasaki, Japan, claim to have demonstrated that inhaling linalool can reduce stress in lab rats. In a study published in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry , they exposed the animals to stressful conditions and found that those inhaling linalool saw their stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes fall to near-normal levels compared with the controls. Inhaling linalool also reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that "go into overdrive" in stressful situations. The findings could form the basis of new blood tests for identifying fragrances that can soothe stress, the researchers claim

Nakamura, Akio et al.; Fujiwara, S; Matsumoto, I; Abe, K (20 May 2009). "Stress Repression in Restrained Rats by (R)-(−)-Linalool Inhalation and Gene Expression Profiling of Their Whole Blood Cells". The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (American Chemical Society) 57 (12): 5480–5485. doi:10.1021/jf900420g. PMID 19456160.

Shirley Price Aromatherapy has a brochure 'Getting to know lavender better'.  Much french lavender that is sold and most lavender that finds its way into hygiene products is in fact Lavandin which is a naturally occuring hybrid of spike lavender and true lavender.  All the great pictures of Lavender fields are in fact fields of vigourous Lavendin.  Lavendin is a wonderful home fragrance, for example a few drops can be put on a mat.  The perfume rises when trodden on creating a relaxing atmoshere to come home to.  Lavandin has a relatively small linalool content so finds little use in aromatherapy though it is often sold as Lavender.  Lavendin has a relatively high borneol (40-50%) and camphor (10%) content so like spike lavender must be used with care.


Sunday, 8 August 2010

Shirley Price - Blending

Shirley Price's blending recipes for common ailments are preserved in her publications.

An interesing schedule of these recipes is in the Company training records. 

Its not easy to advise on a blend suitable for their common ailments over the phone.  We refer the caller to an IFPA registered aromatherapist local to them who can also make up and advise on blended products.

The artistic idea behind blends of oils is that a blend is more powerful than a single oil and creates a synergy.  The science is that while a single oil may contain chemical components which can achieve the desired effect a blend multiplies the effect by doubling or tripling the chemical components from which the body can choose.  Shirley Price recommends that usually no more than three oils are combined.

Self help with essential oils mininmises antibiotic use.  Besides the side effects of antibiotics the fact is that drug resistant bacteria are on the increase and this is of concern.

According to an article published in The Lancet a new gene, NDM-1 has emerged which allows bacteria to be highly resistant to almost all antibiotics. NDM-1 has spread in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It was found in 37 patients from the UK, who travelled to India or Pakistan for medical procedures including cosmetic surgery,  "The potential of NDM-1 to be a worldwide public health problem is great, and co-ordinated international surveillance is needed," Timothy Walsh of Cardiff University and his international colleagues wrote. The gene was mostly found in E Coli, a common cause of urinary tract infections and pneumonia, which is highly resistant to antibiotics. The authors said it could be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria, suggesting "an alarming potential to spread and diversify among bacterial populations". The authors wrote: "India also provides cosmetic surgery for other Europeans and Americans, and it is likely NDM-1 will spread worldwide."

Study co-author Dr David Livermore, director of antibiotic resistance monitoring at the Health Protection Agency, said: "The findings of this paper show that resistance to one of the major groups of antibiotics, the carbapenems, is widespread in India. "This is important because carbapenems were often the last 'good' antibiotics active against bacteria that already were resistant to more standard drugs. Few antibiotics remain active against these bacteria."